Sri Lanka Cabinet Spokesman backs rehabilitation law to protect fundamental rights

ECONOMYNEXT –  Sri Lanka’s Cabinet Spokesman and Minister Bandula Gunawardena said new laws and amendments to the existing laws should be brought in to protect fundamental rights of the people while promising “Bureau of Rehabilitation Bill” to be constitutional.

Rights groups and civil society groups have raised concerns over the new bill tabled in the parliament last month citing that would establish a new administrative structure controlled by the Defense Ministry to operate “rehabilitation” centers staffed by military personnel.

“The government will never enact any laws against the constitution,” Minister Gunawardena told reporters at a weekly cabinet briefing when asked over the concerns and criticism raised over the proposed bill.

He said the Supreme Court will send its observation on any bills brought to parliament if anybody challenges in the Court.

However, he said new laws and amendment to the existing laws should be brought to protect fundamental rights of every person.

“I am a citizen of this country. But a large number of my fundamental rights have been violated. My rights to travel freely and live where ever I want have been ensured by the constitution,” Gunawardena told referring to May 9 violence which resulted in anti-government protesters burning and attacking houses of at least 73 mainly ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna lawmakers.

“Without doing any wrongdoing, the house of an unarmed person like me was burnt. So my fundamental rights have been violated. If there is a situation like that, then we have to amend the laws dealing with the fundamental rights or new laws should be brought in. that’s my opinion.”

Many local and international human rights groups have raised concerns over the new bill at a time the government has agreed to repeal a draconian anti-terrorism law – Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The European Union had warned Sri Lanka of not renewing a lucrative trade concession that helped the island nation’s top exporter garments, if the PTA is not repealed.

The new Bureau of Rehabilitation bill has emphasized the need and the importance of regulating the rehabilitation of the “misguided combatants, individuals engaged in extreme or destructive acts of sabotage and those who have become drug dependent persons.

The new bill comes as protesters who brought down the previous government in July are being arrested and questioned under the guise of “public property damage”, civil society officials and rights groups say.

“The Sri Lankan government’s proposed ‘rehabilitation’ efforts appear to be nothing more than a new form of abusive detention without charge,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Rehabilitation Bill would open the door widely to more torture, mistreatment, and endless detention.”

Ganguly accused President Ramil Wickremesinghe of “pursuing abusive and repressive policies that make it difficult for Sri Lanka’s international partners to wholeheartedly back desperately needed economic measures”.

“Foreign governments should make clear that they will support the urgent needs of the Sri Lankan people, but they will also take action through targeted sanctions and other measures against those committing serious human rights violations.” (Colombo/Oct18/2022)

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